As Sam Sees It

The 2006 football season begins on Friday for the Winslow Bulldogs and their new head coach Adam Larsen. The Bulldogs will journey to Holbrook to take on the Roadrunners from the 3A East Region. Holbrook has been a doormat in the 3A East, but would probably be a playoff team most years had the Roadrunners been able to stay in the 3A North.

Winslow returns an impressive array of talented veterans led by quarterback Jordan Payne, tight end and defensive stalwart Nick Anderson. Payne is one of the most talented signal callers in Arizona and will have a variety of fine receivers to work with. Josh Stago, Tim Meritt and transfer Johnny Butler are just three who come to mind. Justin Powell should rank among the better linemen in Arizona.

Larsen will be in his first year as the head mentor, but will still be expected to bring a dominant team to 3A North Region play.

The Bulldogs may find the lack of quality competition in the region as the main obstacle to winning the coveted state championship. The schedule contains one more non-conference game than last season and only Holbrook looks to be weak among the three such opponents. Given the fact that the Roadrunners are traditional rivals and that a win over the Bulldogs would make their season, even the opener is perilous.

Winslow fans should get behind the Bulldogs and their new head coach by making the 34 mile journey to Holbrook to support the team. In fact, it would be even better if fans would fill Emil Nasser Stadium on Friday for freshman and junior varsity games against those Roadrunner squads. Game times are set for 4 and 6 p.m.

This could be a banner year for professional sports teams from Arizona. The Diamondbacks are a mediocre baseball team, but one that plays in a very mediocre division. Winning the National League Western Division may not even require posting a winning record.

Once in the playoffs, the Diamondbacks would be just one or two upset victories away from playing for the National League Championship. If they finish with that kind of luck, even another World Series appearance is not out of the question. It may not happen, but at least the first step (winning the Western Division) is very doable.

The Arizona Cardinals football team starts most seasons with optimistic forecasts that soon prove baseless. This could be the year that there is reason for the optimism. There are some pretty good players on the team and Dennis Green looks like the type of coach who can deliver on his promises. This isn't a Super Bowl quality team, but, like the Diamondbacks, they could be just a few upset wins away from at least getting close to that coveted prize.

The Phoenix Suns made believers of most everyone last season. This team was the avoidance of one untimely injury away from the NBA Championship Series. There is absolutely no reason to believe they won't be just as good this year. For the Suns, it is a matter of staying healthy and keeping on doing what they were doing. Staying healthy is the real key to winning in the NBA.

The Phoenix Coyotes will be playing again and that, of course, is a major improvement. With the legendary Wayne Gretzky as coach, there is certainly reason for optimism. Hockey fans will be coming off a year-long fast and eager to fill Glendale Arena should the Coyotes make it deep into the playoffs.

Of course, any or all of the Arizona based teams could falter and fall flat. All have done so in the past. That is the Cardinals' modus operandi. The Diamondbacks have missed a plethora of opportunities to take charge of their division this season. The Suns and Coyotes have not failed as spectacularly, but haven't made it to the ultimate objective either.

It should be an interesting sports year. Will the Arizona teams peak at the right time and provide the thrills of playoff victories, or will they fade away under the pressure? Those questions are yet to be answered and why they play the games.

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